“You’re not staying within the lines,” my mother said to me as I sat on our dark green shag carpet, brushing the stray, blonde curls from my face with my coloring book in my lap. I looked up at her, the woman who held my heart. Disapproval shot from her eyes into me. Almost a whisper I said, “But why do I have to? I like blending the colors and I need more room. The lines aren’t big enough.”. Ignoring my comment, “And why are the faces blue? People don’t have blue faces.”. Again, I softly whispered, “Cerulean blue is my favorite name of crayon and I wanted to use my favorite for the faces.”. More disapproval accompanied by a glare, “You’re not doing it right.” as she gave a heavy sigh and left me, surrounded by my crayons and page in my coloring book that was done wrong.
“Let me show you how to do it” was often heard in my growing ears. “You’re not doing it right”. My shame grew. I began to hide my drawings and coloring books from her. I couldn’t bear to disappoint her again. My mother could do anything from fixing a toilet to painting a beautiful picture. She could teach herself to do anything. It appeared that everything always turned out perfectly, exactly as she wanted it, the first time. Everything I did needed improvement, it just wasn’t right, it wasn’t good enough. Feelings of unworthiness kept my shame company inside me.
My father was also one of my best critics. Weeding the garden, mowing the lawn, painting the garage all had to be done a certain way. If I dared stray from the path, I would have to do it all over until it was done correctly, and even then, the disapproval lingered. It was never good enough. I was never good enough. I was the adopted daughter, not his own child. I would never be the child he really wanted. I would never live up to his expectations. I bravely tried. I became interested in everything he did so he would spend time with me, and an expert at chasing his approval.
Approval was elusive.
The chase for approval followed me through a string of bad relationships, some worse than others. I was unworthy and unlovable, I was told by one in particular. I believed his words and allowed myself to be taken down, to be treated horribly. I felt lucky that someone as wonderful as he was would want to be with me. The bruises were always in a place that nobody else could see. The words were only heard by my ears.
Many, many years later I seek Maitri, loving kindness to oneself. It sounds so Shangri-La, that I am basically a good person, just as I am. It has been a long journey for me, from the young girl who, at times, felt such shame and unworthiness merely existing to the woman I have become. Psychotherapy, in many forms, has helped me and given me tools to work with, but my heart longs for more. Shame and unworthiness still cradle me in their arms. I am adept at giving loving kindness to others, but not myself. If we can practice loving kindness to ourselves, I believe we can change the world by being genuinely kind, vulnerable and empathetic.
Join me on this journey of discovering maitri for me as I participate in Elephant Academy’s “How to Fall in Love with Your Sweet Self” course. The writings of Pema Chodron and Sharon Salzberg will be guiding me. Hold me accountable while I develop a regular meditation practice and try falling a bit more in love with your sweet self too!
“Developing tenderness towards yourself allows you to see both your problems and your potential accurately. You don’t feel that you have to ignore your problems or exaggerate your potential. That kind of gentleness towards yourself and appreciation of yourself is very necessary. It provides the ground for helping yourself and others.”